Taipan! is a turn-based strategy computer game for the Apple II and TRS-80 which was created in 1982. It was created by Art Canfil and the company Mega Micro Computers, and published by Avalanche Productions.
The game Taipan! was inspired by the novel Tai-Pan by James Clavell. The player is in the role of a trader in the Far East. They own a ship, and may decide if they wish to start without any cash but five guns, or with some cash and a debt.
The goal is to accumulate wealth through trade and possibly also through booty won in battles against pirates. As soon as the player's net worth reaches one million (in the game's undefined currency), the player has the option to retire.
The original version of the game was programmed by Art Canfil using a TRS-80. However, the better-known commercial release ran on the Apple II. Trivia buffs will note that the Apple port was coded by Ronald J. Berg of Mega-micro Computers, a hidden snippet that's revealed by reading the data value of memory location USR(34). Art Canfil co-authored a book that gives not only the TRS-80 code but also some excellent background information.
The basic strategy of the game is to buy goods (opium, silk, arms, and general cargo) at a low price and sell them at a higher price. The silk, arms, and general cargo have no special features; opium is special in that it can be confiscated at random points by the local authorities, resulting in a fine for the player. This makes dealing in opium riskier than dealing in the other goods; however, it is also in general the most profitable item for trade.
At various times when arriving at a port, a message will pop up indicating a special price has occurred for one of the commodities. In this case, either the commodity's price falls or rises significantly.
The player may trade at any of seven ports: Hong Kong, Shanghai, Nagasaki, Saigon, Manila, Singapore, and Batavia (Batavia is the old Dutch name for present-day Jakarta). The port at Hong Kong is the player's home port. Here the player has access to ship repair, a money lender, and a bank. Often in Hong Kong, the local extortionist Li Yuen asks if you would like to "donate" money to the Sea Goddess. If the player refuses to donate, Li Yuen eventually sends a fleet of hostile ships (which are much more difficult to fight than ordinary pirates). On the other hand, if one choses to pay Li Yuen, he will occasionally drive off hostile ships for you. The money he asks depends on the amount of cash the Taipan carries.
It is not advisable to carry too much excessive cash; the donations asked from Li Yuen, the fines for dealing with opium and the amount stolen from oneself after occasionally getting "beaten up and robbed" always depend on how much you have. Money may be transferred into your bank account for some interest. The player also has the option of borrowing money from Elder Brother Wu, the moneylender, although this amount is limited to the amount the player already has on hand (if the player has zero, they cannot borrow anything). Goods may be stored in the warehouse in Hong Kong, while waiting for prices to rise. However, purchases left in the warehouse may be stolen if left too long. Rates of theft are higher with higher-end commodities such as opium or silk.
Note: A bug in the game allows the player to overpay the moneylender, acquiring "negative debt". This "negative debt" will accumulate interest very quickly, and will count towards the player's net worth. As the game's vocabulary of number words ends at "trillion", this can cause the game to display garbage instead of the player's correct net worth. Note that this bug has been fixed in the online "for browsers" version of the game.
Runner's Gambit: When attacked by ships an effective escape strategy is to do nothing and wait until the crew asks, "Taipan, what shall we do??" and then immediately pressing 'R' for run. This strategy which usually results in a quick escape may only work on the Apple ][ version.
Throughout the game, the player is sometimes offered the opportunity to purchase ship upgrades. When this happens, the player can trade the old ship for a larger one with fifty extra cargo units by paying some money. Guns are also occasionally offered to the player for varying prices, when arriving in a harbor. More guns mean more firepower (and subsequently also larger fleets attacking), but also require 10 units of valuable cargo-space in the hold.
When being attacked by hostile ships, the player may decide to either "run" or "fight". Dropping cargo overboard increases the chance of escaping if the player decides to run. In order to fight, the ship must be equipped with guns. When hit by enemy fire, the ship gets damaged, and occasionally a gun is lost. If the ship's condition reaches zero percent, it will sink, and the game ends. But if the player succeeds in sinking all hostile ships, they earn some booty (cash).